Monday, April 4, 2011

I Always Wanted to be an Olympic Star

Just the other day I received this 'award' in the mail, along with an official letter from the 'Olympic Committee'. Unbeknownst to me, I had received the 2011 'Graceful High Jumping Award'. It's very prestigious and sought after, you know. Conveniently, I finished reading Randy Pausch's 'The Last Lecture' just today. In this great work, Randy discusses the childhood dreams he had...and fulfilling them at various stages in his life.... Not necessarily under the circumstances he had expected, but they were fulfilled nonetheless. Growing up in northern New Hampshire I was always outside. And chances were great that I was outside either riding my bike or running. About 1/4 - 1/2 a mile from our little farm house was a spring fed pond that my dad had had dug for us. We spent ample time in the summer swimming and ample time in the winter ice skating on this natural wonder. The water was crystal clear and could be ingested without a worry. Our pet geese enjoyed it, we enjoyed it, passing wildlife enjoyed it. I enjoyed running to it. Whenever the chance arose, I challenged someone, anyone, to race me to the pond. Most times it was my dad, who would quickly wimp out, leaving me to run solo. On occasion a school friend would be given the challenge, often with the same results. Truth is, I could run. And I always wanted to be an Olympic runner. In highschool I was recognized by my P.E. teacher as one of the quickest runners in class. By that point, however, I had all but given up on my Olympic dreams. I'd have to rest satisfied with the childhood memories and the hand-written paper award my teacher handed me that day. But then 2011 came around and I took that, apparently now infamous, leap at Enchanted Rock in central Texas. The path to my childhood dream was re-opened. I didn't know it, but it was. And although my 'award' isn't for running, I am an 'Olympic Star' either way. And, anyway, I had to gear up for that leap with a bit of a running start. [Many thanks to 'Jeff G.' for granting me this award. You truly are too kind.]

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I'm here tonight to assert to you what we have found to be quite obvious...

"You're a great spokesperson, " said a fellow coal fighter to me about a month ago. "We're counting on you."

Somehow I have more recently emerged as one of the local leaders against Big Coal. When there is an event, I help organize it. A press conference, I help host it. Comments needed by the local paper, I provide one.

So, when someone was needed to go to Austin, yet again, to represent West Texas...I did it.

Through shakes, shivers, sweats and butterflies I managed to make a four-minute speech before the Sunset Advisory Committee [at the Capitol building] headed up by a Texas Senator.

Once per decade Texas agencies undergo a Sunset Review. It is a time for public involvement regarding the positive and negative aspects of these agencies and the changes that are seen as necessary. With our more recent dealings with the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality)---who, the day before I testified had granted Tenaska their air permit---and the obvious fact that it is quite corrupt, it was quite fitting that I speak on behalf of all those people who could not make the trip to Austin. There was only one chance on one day to give my public statement, and I felt it necessary. I waited from 8:30 am....and finally gave my statement just after 8:00 pm.

After stating the necessaries---my name, where I live, who I represent---I began my testimony:

I am here tonight on behalf of all these people to assert to you what we have found to be quite obvious. The TCEQ is not working for the people of Texas; the everyday, hard-working citizens of Texas.....

"You have no idea how proud of you I am right now," whispered one of my allies immediately after.

"That was one of the best speeches I've heard here," stated another.

I've grown.

This fight has forced me to do things I never thought I was capable of. Speeches before the EPA-- Senators-- Representatives-- Suits? Press conferences? Newspaper interviews? TV News interviews?

It's crazy.

But I believe something good can emerge from even the worst of situations. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be fighting a multi-billion dollar corporation in a west Texas town. Fighting the 'Good Ole' Boys', the 'Town Fathers' and all the industry goons.

It's little me against them.

...And I actually kind-of like it.

I now understand the pull....the desire to help others, even though the hours are long and the pay minimal. At the end of the day, if you can feel good about what you have done, it makes the effort worth far more.

I continue to stand up for the people who will be adversly affected by this potential coal-plant...and they are starting to notice.

But even if they didn't...

It feels good to do something selfless and good. To speak for those who feel they have no voice.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Volunteering Towards a Better Future

I was told, not too long ago, that volunteer work prolongs one's life.

Should this statement be true (which I believe it is) I should live a long and happy existence.

I remember being involved in volunteer and community projects back into grade school. Back then it didn't mean as much to me as it currently does, but it always felt good to know I was doing something good for someone besides myself.

After getting sick in high school and living the true realities of helplessness and hopelessness, I have found great joy, over the more recent years, in donating my time to various organizations and projects.

Several years ago I came across a program run through the Forest Service called Passport in Time. It allows volunteers the opportunity to work alongside archaeologists, mainly, in projects of all sorts. My first outing was in Nevada and involved survey and recording of historic charcoal kilns. My second time out, I was in Utah restoring an historic guard station.

Just a few weeks back I drove to Montana to help restore and old bunkhouse on a historical homestead.

Three days' drive up and back was well worth the time and effort to experience the backwoods of Montana. Just outside Missoula, we drove nearly an hour down a dirt road deep into the Lolo National Forest. The location couldn't have been better; my accomodations (in the 'executive suite', as it came to be known) were far better than expected; the company was fun and unique; the food only added to my thunderous thighs!

More than that, though, I felt good about giving back.

Ever since my 'retirement' seven years ago, people of all sorts have made it clear to me that I am inferior, a liar, a fake. Why people feel the need to belittle another in this way is beyond me. I consider myself, overall, a really great person. I'm honest and kind, generous and reliable. My friends are precious entities and I try my hardest to make people feel welcomed and appreciated.

The outside influences are not of my doing or control. But I can work to better myself and my community/country/world.

And that's what I'm doing.
By giving back, I feel better. And when I feel better, life is far more enjoyable.
So why not do what brings you joy?
I can only hope that one day all my 'good deeds' will be repaid (karma), that my true worth will be recognized and my skills put to the best use possible.
But until then, I will continue to help where I can. Working, when money is not involved, isn't really work. It's fun and selfless.
The way it should be.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The EPA Hearing

September 8, 2010 marked the date that the EPA would hold a hearing in Dallas regarding coal ash regulation. Public comment is open until mid-November, allowing for individuals to voice their opinions regarding whether coal ash should be regulated under Subtitle C: as a hazardous waste and regulated by the Federal Government, or Subtitle D: more of a household waste and regulated by state agencies, under the RCRA.

To me, the choice is obvious. And to nearly 300 of us who attended the hearing in Dallas in favor of Subtitle C, the choice is simple. Coal ash is hazardous. There is seemingly no way around that fact.

My fight with Big Coal has changed who I am in more ways than one. With a coal plant threatening to be built about 1.5 miles from my home, I now know just what it feels like to be in such a horrendous position. I, essentially, know what it feels like to be a be dumped on by the rest of society. It's an awful feeling at best. I can't say that I have ever, in my life, been exactly fond of people or the human race in general, but fighting this fight has made me wonder if my future should involve the defense of the poor and utterly helpless.

Public speaking, while I don't do it too often, has been forced upon me as well. Everyone who hears me compliments me. "You're a fantastic speaker!" they say. "You sound so cool and calm," they suggest. Inside, I shake. I think I might faint. Then, apparently, I do a fabulous job.

I forced myself to speak at the Dallas public hearing and I'm glad I did it. I can honestly say that I walked away with a feeling of I had just done something for the good of all humanity. A feeling that I had served my country well.

"My name is Whitney Root and I am here as a representative of the Multi-County Coalition, a non-profit organization based in Sweetwater, Texas working to stop construction of the proposed Tenaska Trailblazer Energy Center. Along with about 700 individuals around the Big Country Area, the City of Trent, the City of Hawley and the Texas Farmers' Union are members of our organization.

We are at a point in history where debate over coal products should no longer be an issue. Study upon study confirms that coal ash contains any number of poisonous materials including, but not limited to: mercury, cadmium, arsenic, cobalt and lead. Mercury is one of the deadliest elements on the planet. Arsenic is a potent poison. Cobalt is a carcinogen.

In as much as science provides proof beyond question, there should be no hesitation for the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate this waste for what it is--HAZARDOUS.

Any further debate over the issue simply stalls, once again, the day of reckoning when the truth be told--coal products and bi-products are threatening to human life and therefore, by definition, HAZARDOUS.

It is high time for the Environmental Protection Agency to do what its title suggests it do--protect American citizenry against hazards such as coal ash. Failure to do so would only constitute a further, cynical delay of doing what is right and just.

For well over a century energy companies have reaped enormous profits because they have been able to ignore environmental and human concerns. It is time for the pendulum to swing back, part way at least, to We the People--the inhabitants of this environment. It is the only environment we have ad it must be protected.

And that, my friends, is your job.

Ansel Adams is quoted as saying, "it is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment." Please don't hesitate to do what you know is right; what is right for the American People. Coal ash must be regulated under the stricted standards available. It is a hazardous waste and must be treated as such."

The day before our hearing, our billboard was hung! I'm so proud! I can't believe all that we have done---we're fighting an energy company with little to speak of for funding...and we're doing a damn good job of it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Flash Forward: Where Did the Summer Go?

With September creeping up on us and the autumn mere weeks away, I must ask myself where the summer went.

It went, in part, to my beloved garden. I spent many hours tending to my cucumbers, my basil and my peppers. I decided, without question, that my 'perfect life' would involve a greenhouse, many herbs and ample veggies. Plants simply bring me joy.

Visits from family occupied some of my time. We had the chance to enjoy the summer sun and various Texas activities....most notably, the shooting of the gun.

Unfortunately, the bulk of my summer went to fighting the Tenaska coal plant, proposed to be built near my house. This summer myself and other fearsome fighters kicked off our "Water YES, Tenaska NO" campaign. These signs were distributed all over Abilene....and in the end, we saw victory. The Mayor decided against selling water to the coal plant and the company subsequently backed out of the request. It was a huge victory. I also launched my facebook page, "Texans Against Tenaska", that now boasts nearly 1,600 people.

In May we held a Town Hall event in Abilene. Nearly 100 people were in attendance.

In June I traveled to Austin to overhear the Contested Case Hearing regarding the air permit that we had fought to have held. Pictured above is me with our attorneys....wearing an anti-coal shirt in a room full of Tenaska representatives.

July brought a Town Hall event in Sweetwater, where the fight has returned most recently. This meeting was attended by about 70 people.

Very little of my summer was spent helping myself. In May I was able to go to an archaeological field school in the panhandle.

And in late July I escaped (finally) on a camping trip to Caprock Canyon State Park and Palo Duro Canyon State Park. I had declined an internship at the latter earlier in the summer due to a commitment to fighting Tenaska and my father's illness.

And, yes, the Sun Chips bag. Hmmm. Not much happened here. Pretty disappointing, really.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Sun Chips Bag

Maybe you've seen it, maybe not. But the newest Sun Chips bag claims to be 100% compostable. Not that I am suggesting that the Sun Chips people lie, but, being who I am...well, I want to test it for myself.

A look at the back of the bag suggests that, in about 13 weeks, there will be a complete "breakdown into compost." Now, it also mentions that this will occur in "a hot, active home or industrial compost pile."

Since I have neither readily accessible, I decided to just 'plant' the bag in my garden, vow to water it daily and added an additional 3 weeks onto the decomposition time (for a total of 16 weeks).

Will it work? Who knows. If it doesn't I will place no blame on the Sun Chips company, but rather on my lack of a proper compost area.
I'll update on or about August 15, when my 16 weeks are up. It certainly will be interesting to see what transpires!

Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Throwing Punches

Ahhh....the sweet smell of spring is in the air; the flowers are in bloom; the skies a radiant blue; and the days are growing longer and longer.

What's not to enjoy?


With our contested case hearing growing nearer and said corporation still pushing to make their new home one mile from our home, well...

so much for the joys of spring.

Everything seems to be moving in fast-forward mode. The newspaper articles, both pro and con, are constant. The EDF, who I endorsed and represented in our preliminary trial, turned on me--well, us--and is now in support of the coal plant. The local television station was at the house on earth day and our non-profit group was denied representation at the local 'green' festival. The mayor was worried that we would make him look stupid.

Hmm. You do that just fine yourself, without our presence, sir.

Back and forth conversations between myself and EDF lawyers have been ongoing; they know I am extremely angry. Why shouldn't I be? They turned on me. Whether it is their 'strategy' or not, I feel betrayed.

And, in the midst of all my anger, I started a Facebook page. It's an attempt--hopefully successful--to make this fight statewide...maybe nationwide.

You never know. I could start a movement. :)
Fighting such a fight is very demanding; it's draining. I can easily see how these companies win out in the end. They wear their opponents a point of exhaustion and fear.
In town yesterday I was constantly watching my back. Really. I feel as though I am being watched; that at any moment someone could hurt me...or at least threaten to.
But, for the moment, I am in it for the long haul. It's discouraging and it's scary. But reassuring words from one of our Austin proponents convinced me that it isn't the Sierra Clubs or the EDFs that win these fights. It is the regular, everyday citizen.
And perhaps, someday, the work I am putting into this cause will prevent another individual from going through the same heartache.
Hopefully I am making a difference for the future of America.